14 May 2018
The lucky fortunes of politics have shone on the Liberal Party and the Greens, though not in ways that you might think. They might be far apart in terms of where they sit on the political fence, but in recent months some in their ranks have enjoyed lucky breaks.
With numerous politicians disqualified as a result of a court ruling over dual citizenship, although by-elections have followed in relation to members of the House of Representatives, the story has been different in relation to the Senate.
When Senators are disqualified, a recount of the Senate vote takes place in their former states or territories. Usually, a disqualified Senator’s running mate from the same party or group ends up coming into the Senate. Meanwhile, another running mate is simply moved up the order.
The lucky thing surrounding the dual citizenship saga, and those disqualified politicians, is that some people, specifically in the Senate, have found themselves taking the next election off. The result of the saga is that some Senate careers have been unexpectedly prolonged.
Federal elections usually have six Senate seats up for grabs in each state, noting that each state has twelve Senators, with half of them facing the voters at each election on a rotating basis. However, the last election, in 2016, was a double-dissolution, which doesn’t happen much in Australia, and all twelve Senate seats were therefore up for grabs in every state in 2016. At that election, it was decided that, out of each state’s twelve Senators, the last six to be elected would be facing the voters at the next election, which will happen by June 2019 at the very latest, while the first six to be elected wouldn’t be facing the voters until the election after next, due by June 2022.
As such, there are four lucky Senators, specifically three Liberals and a Green.
The easiest explanation of luck surrounds Rachel Siewert, a Green from Western Australia. She was originally elected twelfth, while another Green, Scott Ludlam, was elected third. Although the Greens won considerably fewer votes than both the Liberals and the Labor Party, they won more than enough votes to be assured of at least one seat, and as the first candidate on the Senate ticket for the Greens, Ludlam was duly elected. He was among those disqualified over dual citizenship, and Siewert, as the second candidate for the Greens in the 2016 election, therefore was considered their “first” candidate in the recount, so she was moved to third, while the candidate directly below Siewert, Jordon Steele-John was elected twelfth in Siewert’s former place. Siewert was due to face the voters at the next election, but Ludlam’s disqualification enables her to have the next election off.
It’s important to note that when Senate votes are counted, the major parties often win more than enough votes to be guaranteed two or three seats each, although the Greens sometimes win enough votes to be guaranteed seats when counting starts. But as long as parties win enough votes to be guaranteed seats, no matter how far ahead of or behind their rivals they are, they are among the first declared elected. In WA, for example, the Liberals and Labor won enough votes for several seats, and the Greens won enough votes for one seat, but on those grounds, they were the third to have someone declared elected. After that, the major parties naturally had more candidates declared elected, and the Greens had more votes come to them on preferences, so they won a second seat.
Similarly, in New South Wales, Liberal Senator Concetta Fierravanti-Wells moved up the order from seventh to fifth after a National, Fiona Nash, was disqualified in the dual citizenship saga. Because the Liberals and the Nationals ran a joint Senate ticket in NSW, they had a mix of Liberals and Nationals there. In 2016, Nash was the fifth to be declared elected, but as a result of her disqualification, Fierravanti-Wells now avoids facing the voters at the next election.
But the luckiest Senators must surely be two Liberals from Tasmania, Jonathon Duniam and David Bushby. They were elected seventh and ninth respectively, before the disqualification of Liberal Senator Stephen Parry and crossbencher Jacqui Lambie. However, their fate is trickier to explain.
As the second Liberal Senate candidate, Parry finished up as the fifth Tasmanian Senator elected. His disqualification moved Duniam up to fifth, enabling Duniam to have the next election off.
But the disqualification of Lambie, who was fourth elected, really messed things up. Her party didn’t win a big share of the vote overall, but her personal vote, combined with her party’s vote, enabled her to win a seat. Her disqualification meant that her party didn’t have enough votes to be guaranteed a seat, although the party ultimately got one on preferences. This ultimately shifted the party down the order to ninth, while other candidates moved up the order. Duniam subsequently ended up having been elected fourth, and Bushby moved to sixth, with a Labor candidate between them. This means that Bushby, like Duniam, avoids facing the voters at the next election.
The dual citizenship saga therefore leaves four Senators having longer time within the parliamentary chamber than expected. Few can enjoy such luck.